The man responsible for Germany’s worst far-right terror attack in four decades was not, in the words of one leading far-right expert, “a classical neo-Nazi.”
Instead, judging by the material he posted online, Tobias Rathjen appears to have been driven by a toxic mix of racist, conspiracist, and incel ideology, and likely suffered from serious mental health problems, experts say.
“His manifesto and videos display a very wild mixture of conspiracy theories, racism, and incel ideology,” Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies, told VICE News.
“He is not, from what I have seen so far, a classical neo-Nazi, and from his own postings also likely suffered from mental health issues. Mental health, and extremism, [and] conspiratorial thinking can go hand in hand.”
The investigation has only just begun into what led the 43-year-old German to kill nine people at two hookah bars, popular hangouts for young Kurds, in a racially-motivated rampage in his hometown of Hanau Wednesday night. before turning his gun on his mother and himself.
But so far, no evidence has emerged that he was tied to far-right organizations or acted as part of a wider network. Peter Beuth, Interior Minister of the state of Hesse, said Thursday that the attacker had not been on the radar of police or intelligence agencies for holding right-wing extremist views.
Much of what’s known of Rathjen’s disturbing worldview so far was revealed in a rambling 24-page letter and videos he uploaded online prior to his attack. In the letter, Rathjen outlines his genocidal convictions, calling for the “complete extermination” of many “races or cultures in our midst,” and arguing for the superiority of German culture.
'Explicitly eugenicist terms'
“He hates foreigners and non-whites,” tweeted Peter Neumann, director of London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, giving his take on the manifesto.
“He calls for the extermination of various countries in North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia (which all happen to be majority Muslim). He justifies his call for killing the populations of entire countries in explicitly eugenicist terms, saying that the science prov[e]s that certain races are superior.”
Rathjen also said he had never had a relationship with a woman — for the last 18 years, out of choice, he claimed.
The letters and videos also give an alarming insight into the vivid conspiracy theories that informed Rathjen’s worldview — beliefs that experts say were likely an indication of serious mental illness.
In the letter — described by German federal prosecutor Peter Frank as a “kind of manifesto” displaying “confused thoughts” and a “deeply racist attitude” — he claimed that his thoughts were under the control of mind-readers working for an unnamed “intelligence agency” controlled by a secret elite.
And in a video posted to his YouTube channel days before the attack, entitled “My personal message to all Americans,” Rathjen elaborated on similar ideas, saying the U.S. was under the control of “invisible secret societies” who used “evil methods like mind control” and killed children in underground military bases.
“Wake up!” he said in the video, a cached form of which was viewed by VICE News. “Locate these spaces, gather masses of people together and storm them. It’s your duty as an American citizen to end this nightmare.”
Jan Rathje, a researcher for the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a German organization that works to combat the far right, told VICE News that the gunman’s extremist worldview was strongly influenced by conspiracy theories.
“He spreads his own version of the ‘Great Replacement’ narrative, and believes that a secret ‘elite’ is surveilling the Germans, but especially him,” he said. “He is even convinced that the alleged conspirators would read his mind.”
Robert Lüdecke, a spokesman for the foundation, told VICE News that those delusional conspiracy beliefs apparently made the gunman feel compelled to take urgent action.
“He feels a great threat to himself and his people and believes that he is chosen to defend them by force against enemies from outside. He believes that he is chosen and therefore feels legitimized to carry out his violent acts.”
But while Rathjen had an apparent fixation on fantastical conspiracies in the U.S. — his website contained prominent links to websites of American conspiracy theorists — German politicians are pointing the finger at forces closer to home for helping to put a target on victims in his own hometown.
Rathjen specifically targeted hookah bars — venues for smoking Middle Eastern water pipes that are popular with immigrants — and his nine victims there were all of foreign backgrounds, most of them Turkish.
Lorenz Gösta Beutin, a lawmaker for the left-wing Die Linke party, said the far-right AfD party, which has been blamed for whipping up xenophobia in Germany in recent years, had been waging a sustained campaign against hookah bars in Rathjen’s state in recent months.
“Right-wing terror in Hanau against people relaxing in a bar: the AfD, also in Hessen, has been campaigning against [hookah] bars for months,” tweeted Beutin, along with AfD propaganda painting hookah bars as venues of gang rape and other crimes, and calling for stricter policing of the venues. “And that’s just a small selection.”
Cover In this image taken from an undated self-recorded video, a man who identifies himself as Tobias Rathjen makes a statement. A 43-year-old German man who posted a manifesto calling for the "complete extermination" of many "races or cultures in our midst" shot and killed nine people of foreign background, most of them Turkish, in an attack on a hookah bar and other sites in a Frankfurt suburb, authorities said Thursday. (AP Photo)